political philosophy that supports economic liberalization

Neoliberalism or neo-liberalism is the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism and free market capitalism.


  • In the last three decades, neoliberalism and global capitalism have destroyed social democracies, widened gaps between rich and poor, dispossessed farmers, assaulted indigenous peoples, and marketized the entire world, all the while escalating the war on animals and intensifying the assault on every ecosystem on the earth as a whole.
    • Steven Best, The Politics of Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century (2014) p. 160
  • The scale of the plague is surprising, indeed shocking, but not its appearance. Nor the fact that the U.S. has the worst record in responding to the crisis. Scientists have been warning of a pandemic for years. [...] But scientific understanding is not enough. There has to be someone to pick up the ball and run with it. That option was barred by the pathology of the contemporary socioeconomic order. Market signals were clear: There’s no profit in preventing a future catastrophe. The government could have stepped in, but that’s barred by reigning doctrine: "Government is the problem," Reagan told us with his sunny smile, meaning that decision-making has to be handed over even more fully to the business world, which is devoted to private profit and is free from influence by those who might be concerned with the common good. The years that followed injected a dose of neoliberal brutality to the unconstrained capitalist order and the twisted form of markets it constructs.
  • The U.S.'s privatized for-profit health care system had long been an international scandal, with twice the per capita expenses of other developed societies and some of the worst outcomes. Neoliberal doctrine struck another blow, introducing business measures of efficiency: just-on-time service with no fat in the system. Any disruption and the system collapses. This is the world that Trump inherited, the target of his battering ram. [...] It seems that many Americans would prefer to spend more money as long as it doesn't go to taxes (incidentally killing tens of thousands of people annually). That’s a telling indication of the state of American democracy, as people experience it; and from another perspective, of the force of the doctrinal system crafted by business power and its intellectual servants. The neoliberal assault has intensified this pathological element of the national culture, but the roots go much deeper and are illustrated in many ways, a topic very much worth pursuing.
  • Neoliberalism designates a particular strategy of class domination that uses the state to promote certain competitive dynamics for the benefit of the very rich. In Duménil's and Lévy's words, "Neoliberalism is a new stage of capitalism that emerged in the wake of the structural crisis of the 1970s. It expresses the strategy of the capitalist classes in alliance with upper management, specifically financial managers, intending to strengthen their hegemony and expand it globally." Less a strategy for production than for the transfer of wealth to the very rich, neoliberalism places the "need of money . . . over those of production." Pursued through policies of privatization, deregulation, and financialization, and buttressed by an ideology of private property, free markets, and free trade, neoliberalism has entailed cuts in taxes for the rich and cuts in protections and benefits for workers and the poor, resulting in an exponential increase in inequality.
  • What neoliberalism has done since the 1970s is it has created such economic misery, it has so accentuated levels of inequality, it has created such suffering, it has dismantled entire towns, it has concentrated wealth in the hands of the financial elite, and it has legitimated an enormous culture of cruelty. And it operates off the assumption that the market can solve all problems — not simply in the economy, but in all of social life — so it becomes a template and a model for all social relations. In doing so, it is at odds with any notion of the welfare state, any notion of labor unions, any notion of workers’ rights, and any notion of economic rights. It privatizes, deregulates, and commodifies everything. It sets up a series of competitive attitudes that degrades collaboration. It highlights self-interest at the expense of modes of solidarity. It so accentuates matters of inequitable relations in wealth and power that you have an enormous concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the financial elite, and this is enacted by all kinds of policies that undermine the foundations of a democracy — all of its basic institutions, from the press, to public goods such as schools and media, to politics itself.
  • Money drives politics. We all know that now. But the other side of this is that it's not just an economic system, it’s also an ideological system. As an ideological system, what it generally does is three things that are pernicious and which set the groundwork for a kind of right-wing populism and a fascist politics. First, it operates off the assumption that all social problems are individual problems. Therefore whatever problems people face, the blame for those problems rests with themselves — whether we’re talking about ecological disasters, about poverty, about homelessness, about ignorance and illiteracy, and so forth and so on. Secondly, in doing so it tends to depoliticize people, and by depoliticizing them it becomes very difficult for people — operating under that notion of self-interest, a brutal form of competition, and this heightened notion of rugged individualism — to translate private troubles into larger systemic issues. Hence they find it very hard to understand the conditions in which they find themselves. Thirdly, it creates an enormous culture of ignorance.
  • "Slow violence" refers to our public schools being increasingly defunded, transformed into machines for teaching to the test, and reimagined not as democratic public spheres designed to produced critical citizens, but workers willing to put up with boring work and labor abuses. As they’re increasingly defunded, it's then claimed that they’re failing, and that then becomes an excuse to either privatize them or turn them over to charter schools. In a sense what you have here is a central element of neoliberal ideology, which is an attack on the public good, an attack on any institution that supports the public good, and an attack on forms of pedagogy that teach students about the past, critical thinking, and provide them with the tools for informed decisions and engaged dialogue. In that sense, schools are a prime target
  • One of the things that neoliberalism has done is it has taken notions that are really powerful and turned them around, basically hijacking them in ways that produce misery and suffering. Freedom doesn’t simply mean ‘freedom from’ in the traditional sense of the word, it also means the ‘freedom to’ do more than just survive or wallow in your own orbits of privatization. It means that you not only have political freedoms and individual freedoms — you have economic freedoms, and social freedoms. You cannot live in a society and believe in elections (if you believe in that myth), or believe in being an agent, or believe that you can have power, or believe that you can influence events, if you’re hungry all of the time, if you have to make a choice between medicine and food, if time is no longer a luxury but it basically incapacitates you by virtue of not having the time to do anything to develop the capacities that would allow us to be political, social, and economic agents. Freedom has been utterly distorted under this authoritarian neoliberal machine because it is a notion of freedom that has been regressively individualized and refuses to acknowledge that you cannot talk about choices without at the same time talking about constraints, whether they be economic, political, or social.
  • The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, unfolding around the world as I write these words, will likely be remembered as an epochal shift. [...] Already, in the state of emergency that the crisis has unleashed, we are seeing extraordinary measures emerge that reveal that much of the neoliberal regime’s claims to necessity and austerity were transparent lies. The God-like market has fallen, again. In different places a variety of measures are being introduced that would have been unimaginable even weeks ago. These have included the suspension of rents and mortgages, the free provision of public transit, the deployment of basic incomes, a hiatus in debt payments, the commandeering of privatized hospitals and other once-public infrastructure for the public good, the liberation of incarcerated people, and governments compelling private industries to reorient production to common needs. We hear news of significant numbers of people refusing to work, taking wildcat labor action, and demanding their right to live in radical ways. In some places, the underhoused are seizing vacant homes. We are discovering, against the upside-down capitalist value paradigm which has enriched the few at the expense of the many, whose labor is truly valuable: care, service, and frontline public sector workers. There has been a proliferation of grassroots radical demands for policies of care and solidarity not only as emergency measures, but in perpetuity. Right-wing and capitalist think-tanks are panicking, fearful that half a century of careful ideological work to convince us of the necessity of neoliberalism ⁠— the transformation of our very souls ⁠— will be dispelled in the coming weeks and months. The sweet taste of freedom ⁠— real, interdependent freedom, not the lonely freedom of the market ⁠— lingers on the palate like a long-forgotten memory, but quickly turns bitter when its nectar is withdrawn. If we do not defend these material and spiritual gains, capitalism will come for its revenge.
  • I am a capitalist, and after a 30-year career in capitalism... I'm not just in the top one percent, I'm in the top .01 percent of all earners. Today, I have come to share the secrets of our success, because rich capitalists like me have never been richer... How do we manage to grab an ever-increasing share of the economic pie every year? ... here's the dirty secret. There was a time in which the economics profession worked in the public interest, but in the neoliberal era, today, they work only for big corporations and billionaires... We could choose to enact economic policies that raise taxes on the rich, regulate powerful corporations or raise wages for workers... But neoliberal economists would warn that all of these policies would be a terrible mistake, because raising taxes always kills economic growth, and any form of government regulation is inefficient, and raising wages always kills jobs.
    Well, as a consequence of that thinking, over the last 30 years, in the USA alone, the top one percent has grown 21 trillion dollars richer while the bottom 50 percent have grown 900 billion dollars poorer, a pattern of widening inequality that has largely repeated itself across the world. And yet, as middle class families struggle to get by on wages that have not budged in about 40 years, neoliberal economists continue to warn that the only reasonable response to the painful dislocations of austerity and globalization is even more austerity and globalization.
  • The purpose of the corporation is not merely to enrich shareholders. The greatest grift in contemporary economic life is the neoliberal idea that the only purpose of the corporation and the only responsibility of executives is to enrich themselves and shareholders. The new economics must and can insist that the purpose of the corporation is to improve the welfare of all stakeholders: customers, workers, community and shareholders alike.
    Greed is not good. Being rapacious doesn't make you a capitalist, it makes you a sociopath. And in an economy as dependent upon cooperation at scale as ours, sociopathy is as bad for business as it is for society.... Neoliberal economic theory has sold itself to you as unchangeable natural law, when in fact it's social norms and constructed narratives based on pseudoscience.
  • Neoliberalism as economic theory was always an absurdity. It had as much validity as past ruling ideologies such as the divine right of kings and fascism’s belief in the Übermensch. None of its vaunted promises were even remotely possible. Concentrating wealth in the hands of a global oligarchic elite—eight families now hold as much wealth as 50 percent of the world’s population—while demolishing government controls and regulations always creates massive income inequality and monopoly power, fuels political extremism and destroys democracy. You do not need to slog through the 577 pages of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” to figure this out. But economic rationality was never the point. The point was the restoration of class power.
  • A contradiction lies at the very centre of the neoliberal project. On a theoretical level, neoliberalism promises to bring about a purer form of democracy, unsullied by the tyranny of the state. Indeed, this claim serves as the model lodestar for neoliberal ideology - a banner under which it justifies radical market deregulation. But, in practice, it becomes clear that the opposite is true: that neoliberalism tends to undermine democracy and political freedom. More than 40 years of experimentation with neoliberalism shows that it erodes the power of voters to decide the rules that govern the economic systems they inhabit. It allows for the colonization of political forums by elite interests - a process known as political capture - and sets up new political forums, such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO, that preclude democratic representation from the outset. Neoliberalism also tends to undermine national sovereignty, to the point where parliaments of putatively independent nations no longer have power over their own policy decisions, but are governed instead by foreign banks, the US Treasury, trade agreements, and undemocratic international institutions, all of which exercise a kind of invisible, remote-control power.
  • People commonly think of neoliberalism as an ideology that promotes totally free markets, where the state retreats from the scene and abandons all interventionist policies. But if we step back a bit, it becomes clear that the extention of neoliberalism has entailed powerful new forms of state intervention. The creation of a global 'free market' required not only violent coups and dictatorships backed by Western governments, but also the invention of a totalizing global bureaucracy – the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and bilateral free-trade agreements – with reams of new laws, backed up by the military power of the United States. In other words, an unprecedented expansion of state power was necessary to force countries around the world to liberalize their markets against their will. As the global south has known ever since the Opium Wars in 1842, when British gunboats invaded China in order to knock down China's trade barriers, free trade has never actually been about freedom. On the contrary, as we have seen, free trade has a tendency to gradually undermine national sovereignty and electoral democracy.
    • Jason Hickel, The Divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets (2018) p. 218
  • Neoliberalism, despite the claim by its adherents that it was simply an economic theory, was from its beginnings a class project articulated on behalf of the interests of capital.
  • [Securing] resources for large-scale economic transformational change [...] can be achieved by a government committed to subordinating markets in money, goods and services to regulatory democracy [...]. 'Free-market' neoliberal economic policies that detach markets from society's oversight achieve the reverse. They are designed to subject markets to private, not public, democratic authority.
  • In short, "neoliberalism" is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.
  • Just as in the 1930s, world capitalism, as it had existed until then, had reached a dead-end, and the need for it to be altered for the sake of preserving the system itself, was emphasised by many perceptive bourgeois thinkers, exactly in a similar manner contemporary world capitalism too has reached a dead-end and cannot continue as before. [...] The ruling formation in India, however, is totally oblivious of the world conjuncture. The dead-end of neo-liberalism, which is visible to even bourgeois thinkers in the metropolis, is invisible to our Hindutva brigade. Not only is the Modi government still wedded to the neo-liberal agenda in general, but it has not even deviated from this agenda in the midst of the acute humanitarian crisis unleashed by the pandemic and its own mindless response to it. [...] But following the same track as was being followed in the "last four decades" and not recognising the dead-end of neo-liberalism, also means remaining stuck in that dead-end, which in turn would mean even greater recourse to authoritarian-fascistic measures and even more odious attempts to promote a communal divide. The working people will have to struggle against this entire endeavour and to show the way out of the dead-end of neo-liberalism.
  • The idea of the rule of law lies at the heart of the neo-liberal view of the nature and role of the state. More than this, however, it is the deep fault line that divides neo-liberalism and social democracy and, for that matter, more radical forms of socialism. On the neo-liberal view social democracy and socialism are outside the rule of law. On the face of it, this might seem to be rather an arcane point.
    • Raymond Plant, The Neo-liberal State (2010), p. 5
  • Despite powerful mobilizations that brought them to power, the progressive administrations in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela discovered that structural constraints closed off the possibilities for systemic change. Two decades of neoliberalism had so transformed the class structure of these countries that the social base of Pink Tide governments, while militant, had little economic leverage against capital. Backed primarily by workers in the informal economy and marginalized communities, left-wing governments simply lacked the leverage to challenge ruling classes.

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